Mike Hosking: Treasury has it wrong on film subsidies

Author
Mike Hosking,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Mar 2021, 4:13PM
Lord of the Rings helped bring in the subsidies. (Photo / Supplied)
Lord of the Rings helped bring in the subsidies. (Photo / Supplied)

Mike Hosking: Treasury has it wrong on film subsidies

Author
Mike Hosking,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Mar 2021, 4:13PM

It must be hard working in Treasury. When you’re wrong everyone thinks you’re a doofus, but when you’re right, you must get frustrated that no one listened to you.

Treasury warned about the wage subsidy and company profits and wastage, they were right.

Treasury warned about printing money and seeing interest rates plummet and the effect that would have on housing prices. Remarkably, it is suggested the Finance Minister was sceptical, which is shocking given how obvious it is.

Now Treasury’s latest warning is over film subsidies. They project we are handing out over a billion dollars’ worth in the next five years.

Their concern is it's unlimited. In other words, there are no specific criteria other than you turn up and start making movies, and when you do, you get large tax breaks.

This was dreamed up for Peter Jackson, who in the early days of Lord of the Rings told the government he could shoot anywhere and plenty of places were going to make it worth his while.

So, a conservative government, National, caved to the subsidy industry, and not just that, revisited the criteria several years on and sweetened the deal.

And that led to the debate over the race to the bottom. In other words, how much of a deal do you want to offer? At what point does it become farcical?

Places like India, Ireland, and Canada have long been in the business and the simple truth is this: as wonderous as the South Island scenery maybe as a backdrop, if the dollars don’t make sense, they’ll do it elsewhere.

And like most things, once you’ve bitten the bullet, who has got the gonads to bring it to a grinding halt?

Do we like having a film industry? Yes, we do.

Have we benefitted in a myriad of ways that may or may not be measurable by dollars? Yes, we have.

Does it bring jobs and income outside the subsidies? Yes, it does.

So, with hindsight, I think we can say we did the right thing. But, if that’s true, why don’t we do it for other industries?

Tech and space and cars and manufacturing - what’s so special about film, it needs a deal all of its own?

The answer is glamour. We are star-struck. Never underestimate the pride factor: Middle Earth, Taika, Sam Neill, anyone that flys our flag in a high-profile way gets a freer ride than say the bloke who invented a machine in the back shed that none of us are quite sure what it actually does.

And never forget our current predicament: given our debt, our closed borders, and destruction of tourism, $1 billion over five years to keep people in work and the world knocking at our door with their cameras seems a fairly decent sort of deal.

Treasury, I think, might be wrong on this one.